Meat and masculinity: Report highlights deep-rooted gender barriers to going vegan 

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A new report has highlighted deep-rooted gender barriers to going vegan, and says that vegan men often experience social stigma or ridicule from friends, family and wider society. 

The report highlights a need to address meat eating’s cultural function as an act of ‘performative masculinity’. 

Masculinity and Veganism, a research briefing by the Vegan Society, says that an “overwhelming majority” of UK vegans are women, and that understanding the obstacles that men face in going vegan should be prioritised.

Guided by the question ‘why aren’t more men going vegan and what is the best way to convince more men to do so?’, the report produced four headline findings: 

Meat eating has become a core aspect of how masculinity is ‘performed’ – by refusing to eat meat (or participate in the consumption of other animal products), a man could be perceived as breaking gender expectations, inviting hostility from those who place importance on gender roles.”

Misinformation relating to nutrition (specifically that a vegan diet lacks protein or that soy negatively impacts male bodies) is a further barrier putting more men off going vegan.”

Men are more likely than women to consider animal product consumption to be ‘natural’ and are likely to engage in cognitive dissonance to justify their behaviour.”

Most vegan men are likely to reject rigid gender expectations rather than frame their veganism as fully compatible with mainstream masculinity. Veganism may be a pathway for men to break away from rigid gender norms and expectations.”

The report highlights the way social expectations of men (that may include characteristics such as physical and emotional ‘toughness’, hierarchical social attitudes, and heteronormativity) play directly into male perceptions about the role of meat eating, while also shaping their views on veganism. The report considers how the concept of ‘precarious masculinity’ (whereby men feel a need to actively prove and maintain their masculinity) may also be playing a role. “Meat has come to be associated with strength, high performance, and dominance over other species – traits that are valued highly within hegemonic masculinity,” the report notes. 

By contrast, vegetarian or vegan diets are often perceived as feminised. As such, vegans and vegetarians are thought of as unmasculine or feminine – a view that the Vegan Society report says is supported by multiple studies. Veganism’s perceived challenge to aspects of male identity means that it can represent a symbolic threat to the meat-eating status quo, leading to hostile framing. 

Masculinity and Veganism makes three main recommendations: 
Recommendation 1: Carefully consider the use of vegan male influencers. Research demonstrates that these influencers can promote alienating messages or reinforce narrow understandings of masculinity.” This reflects an earlier tendency towards messaging that overcompensates on masculinity (for example, by featuring vegan body builders and promoting terms such as ‘hegan’).

Recommendation 2: Testimonies from non-famous, ‘ordinary’ vegan men may be more powerful and relatable and provide more practical advice for men considering going vegan.”

Recommendation 3: Further research with vegan men is needed to understand how they’ve managed stigma and judgment from peers or wider society. Interviews or focus groups would be a good place to learn what would have made it easier for these men to go vegan. Research should address the intersectionality of race, class, and other factors on the experience of different men.” 

• Download the full report here.

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